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Volunteers may temporarily leave their jobs to bolster NHS in a Covid-19 pandemic

Jobs will be safeguarded for up to four weeks as part of government’s coronavirus emergency plans 

Coloured transmission electron micrograph of the coronavirus. Picture: SPL

Emergency measures allowing volunteers to temporarily leave their jobs to help support the NHS in the event of a widespread coronavirus pandemic have been set out by the government.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said that skilled, experienced or qualified volunteers could have their jobs protected for up to four weeks to allow them to work across the health and social care systems. About three million people already volunteer in a health, community health and social care setting.

But the RCN warned volunteers must not be asked to take on the highly complex work of nursing staff, for their own protection and for the safety of patients.

Containment phase continues as the number of Covid-19 cases rises to 319

The UK remains in the containment phase of tackling the spread of coronavirus, ministers have said, as the number of cases rose to more than 300.

As of 9am on Monday, 319 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK, up from 273 at the same point on Sunday, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

Four people in the UK have died from the virus.

Measures for potential volunteers are expected to be included in a Covid-19 emergency bill.

Mr Hancock said on Sunday: ‘Public safety is my top priority. Responding to coronavirus is a massive national effort and I’m working with colleagues across government to ensure we have a proportionate emergency bill, with the right measures to deal with the impact of a widespread outbreak.’

RCN warns that volunteers should not be used to displace those in paid jobs

RCN director of nursing, policy and practice Susan Masters said while health and care services could undoubtedly benefit from volunteers to support patients – such as helping during mealtimes and accompanying patients to appointments – meeting essential health and care needs should always be undertaken by paid and appropriately qualified staff.

She added: 'It is vital that volunteers are not used on a longer term basis to displace paid jobs.'

In other developments:

  • More than a million people have sought advice on coronavirus from a dedicated NHS 111 online service since its launch on 26 February
  • Three quarters of 402 GPs surveyed by GP Online said routine appointments should be suspended in the event of a widespread coronavirus outbreak. One in five think this should happen now
  • University Hospital Southampton closed its surgical high dependency unit to new admissions after a staff member tested positive
  • Environment secretary George Eustice is holding talks with retailers on how to support vulnerable groups who may have to self-isolate, amid widespread stockpiling

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